Australia’s best media critic, Dr Stupid, is certainly keeping the hacks on their toes this week.

It was The Panel, you’ll recall, which sparked the “Joe the Cameraman” controversy by playing Channel Nine tape of someone – originally believed to be Warney – slamming the bowling and fielding abilities of genial pace bowler Scott Muller. Cameraman Joe took the rap, and was backed up by independent voice analysis which proved the “can’t bowl, can’t throw” comment was uttered by someone other than Warne.

But unless Joe was in whites and on the field during the Third Test, Warney could be on his own this time. Early on the last day of the match, at a point when play was suspended due to a faulty sightscreen, a player bearing a striking resemblance to Warne was shown walking away from the camera towards the dressing room – while seemingly performing a wacky impersonation of the Indian officials who were attempting to fix the jammed screen.

It was the standard Indian comedy deal – lots of head wobbling, exaggerated hand gestures, and so on. Fans of Greg Ritchie (aka Mahatma Coat) know the routine. If the player in question proves to be Warne, expect the usual outrage about cultural insensitivity from the usual pundits.

Speaking of insensitivity, what’s the deal with The Australian’s coverage from India? While Mark Ray at Fairfax reported the Third Test from Chennai, Malcolm Conn’s byline at The Oz had him “in Madras”, ignoring the fact that the city changed its name to the new Tamil title about five years ago. Will the Oz soon revert to describing Uluru as “Ayers Rock”?

The Oz’s Matt Price, usually a clear-headed writer, got upset about the Indian series not being available on free-to-air TV, claiming he was “forced” to listen to the series on radio (he could have joined Dr Stupid in any one of hundreds of Foxtel pubs around the country). Sydney Morning Herald letter writer Ray Armstrong, of Tweed Heads, was even angrier, whining that “the majority of Australians who can’t afford pay TV were deprived of watching one of the greatest Test series in the history of cricket – all in the name of economic rationalism and the mighty dollar!”

Mr Armstrong should be a journalist. He’s certainly misguided enough. For his information, prior to pay TV no Indian Test series was EVER broadcast in Australia. For Christ’s sake, the first West Indies series Australia ever saw live was in 1991. Before that all we got was the Ashes from England. Take a tip from Dr S: for the cost of a few lemon squashes, you can get all the Indian cricket you want just by hanging around in bars.

Fairfax’s Peter Roebuck tried hard not to gloat over the Aussies’ Second Test loss but couldn’t resist claiming that every LBW decision which went against Steve Waugh’s men was “plumb”. Roebuck – whose anti-Australian bias is at times awfully obvious; last summer he condemned Australians for not walking after disputed catches, but let Zimbabweans off for the same offence – included among his plumb list the second innings LBW call against Glenn McGrath. In the case of that dubious decision, Roebuck added this caveat: “Australian umpires routinely give these decisions, as Nixon McLean could testify.” Multiple wrongs add up to a right in Roebuck’s world.

Among the multiple wrongs in other non-cricket wings of the press:

* Imagine the outrage if it was discovered that a millionaire celebrity with countless commercial endorsements was also pulling down wads of taxpayer cash courtesy of a too-generous government. Well, the Sydney Morning Herald found just such a story last Friday week. In a page five piece on Cathy Freeman, Jacquelin Magnay revealed (in the 14th paragraph) that the wealthy sprinter still receives subsidies from the government-funded Australian Sports Commission. No outrage, though …

* Until recently, The Age ran a regular series called “Signs of Life.” Now The Australian’s Review section uses that title for its page two picture feature. The Daily Telegraph runs a column named “Sauce” in its food section; the SMH now also has a Sauce column. Can’t these people think up anything new?

* The Daily Telegraph ran an item on March 16 detailing the new Qantas plan to measure frequent flyer points by miles rather than kilometres. The SMH, as usual, only caught up with the story a day later. The delay wasn’t due to lack of information; as SMH columnist Adele Horin confessed in the same Saturday edition, she’d received the new Qantas plan in the mail earlier that week. Thanks for passing it on to the reporters, Adele.

* The death of horse trainer Peter Hayes prompted a Herald Sun piece headlined: “A Career Packed With Notable Achievements.” Among those notable achievements, according to the Herald Sun, Hayes apparently “idolised tennis star Lew Hoad as a child”, “worked as a wool classer”, was “born the eldest of four children”, and “broke his hip during a bike-riding fall in Italy”. Um, notable?

* ABC radio reported that “convicted murderer” Mark Brandon Read is appearing in drink-driving advertisements. Read has never been convicted of murdering anything except the English language.

* “Have we all chosen the wrong day jobs?” writes fashion scribbler Melissa Hoyer in the latest Sunday Telegraph. “Can you really believe what some of our high-profile radio jocks get paid each year?” Melissa has just returned from several weeks in Europe, where she travels on the company tab each year to write about frocks. Tough day job, Melissa.

* Liberals make a big deal about journalistic bias against them in the print media (the same way the ALP claims bias on commercial radio). Sometimes – possibly about half the time – the Libs have a case. For an example, look at Tuesday’s SMH, which buried on page four a report on an admission made by Kim Beazley on ABC radio: “If you don’t have any policies, the issue of how you can afford them doesn’t come up.” If John Howard had said anything similar leading up to the 1996 election, where do you think the story would have run?

* While we’re talking about page one, the best front page story of the past week was the Hobart Mercury’s piece on some poor bloke who had the engine stolen from his Holden. The thief carved these words in the car’s paint: “Sorry, mate.”

* The weirdest front page: the Tele on Thursday, which led with an Italian opera promoter who’d fled Australia leaving creditors a few million bucks worse off. All three of the Tele’s Verdi fans were no doubt transfixed by the saga.

* Katrina Beikoff, Tele sports writer, picked up a Quill Award for breaking the story on American athlete CJ Hunter testing positive to drugs. Strangely, the Tele completely buried her original report – and, in keeping with that tradition, they relegated news of Beikoff’s prize to page 59 of the Sunday Telegraph.

* If you consistently misrepresented the Northern Territory’s three-strikes law as a one-strike law, and claimed kids were being locked up for just one pencil-stealing offence when in fact they were being locked up for a series of thefts, you should expect some form of reprimand. Instead, The Australian’s Paul Toohey has won the Graham Perkin award for Australian journalist of the year. (Note: Dr Stupid opposes the three-strikes law, but believes that deliberately exaggerating its application probably harms the chances of having it overturned.)

* Since about midway through last year the Tele has replicated the Herald Sun’s Voteline idea, where readers call (at a cost of 55 cents) to vote on the big question of the day. It’s never taken off in Sydney, where voting numbers usually run to around 200 or so. In Melbourne, the question “Is near-nudity appropriate for the Moomba parade?” drew 2427 responses.

* People often ask me what kind of doctor Dr Stupid is. Fools! It should be obvious. I am a Doctor of Divinity, and as such can assist Sydney Sun-Herald reader Phillip Purcell, of Wanlassa, ACT, who wrote the following to Australia’s dullest tabloid: “Why does this society think it has a God-given right to kill our fellow animals for food or sport? How can this be right when the Christian way is to value each and every life as a unique and priceless gift of God that is not our to take away.”

I would refer Mr Purcell to Genesis 1.26, which says humanity shall have dominion over the animal world, and Genesis 9, in which Noah is instructed to eat animals after they’ve clambered off the Ark. It’s in the Bible, people!

Go in peace, Dr Stupid.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW